One of the most important things all organisations need to remember is that a business is only as good as its people. So, how can you make sure you are getting the most out of your people?
Well, it could equally be said that in any industry, even the best employee can be made even better by being equipped with great tools. Just as a carpenter needs the right tools to conduct his craft, all businesses need to make sure they are equipping their employees with systems that they can effectively work with and get the best end results.
In this age of Facebook and Twitter, iPhone apps and online gaming, it's only natural that information workers expect to be equipped with tools similar to those they are using in their consumer lives. Yet, traditionally, enterprise systems are a far cry away from the engrossing, interactive tools we use to interact with our peers on a daily basis. And still, businesses can benefit massively from taking the collaborative aspect of the way we operate with our peers online and using this to implement similar systems to get the most out of employees at work.
There are a number of social initiatives already being encouraged by some businesses, such as Yammer, Prezi and Google Docs, which have built on the idea of sharing information online in a consumer realm and have deployed it within the workplace. In fact, Forrester Research has predicted that the social software market will grow to more than $6bn by 2016, so the move towards collaboration in the office has been noted and is being watched. And yet, while these initiatives have worked well in some organisations, they have struggled to take off in others. So what makes the difference?
The truth is, when it comes to getting the most out of business tools, employers need to realise each member of their team will have their own ways of working, and furthermore, of collaborating. With the bring your own device trend seeing employees bringing in their own gadgets to conduct work, the individual's preference needs to be accepted and it should be made sure they have technology that they are going to interact with and, ultimately, get the most out of. After all, collaboration requirements are dependent on place and time. If an employee can be in the same place at the same time as the people they need to work with, then it's possible to meet face-to-face. Yet, if you are available at the same time but are in different locations, you need tools, such as phone and web conferencing, to facilitate remote interactions. If you need to work with someone but can't be in the same place or at the same time, you need tools to support asynchronous collaboration - this could be anything from blogs to wikis, email and threaded discussions.
Users just don't want tools where they have to think in a certain way to find the information they are looking for. Instead, they want tools that will stimulate and support their natural way of thinking - following their thought processes and helping then to make discoveries that they might not have even been looking for. For example, when someone wants to discover something online at home, they can conduct a Google search and then find themselves captivated by following a series of links on numerous pages, sharing anything particularly interesting with friends, before 30 minutes later realising they've ended up somewhere completely different to where they started out, but have discovered a lot that they didn't even know they were looking for along the way.
This should be the same with a business tool - in an ideal world it should follow the trail of thought, being truly agnostic, so the user can work as effectively as possible, becoming entranced in their discoveries. Along the path of discovery, they need to be able to securely share what they have found with others in the organisation so they can encourage debate and, ultimately, make sure everyone is informed enough to make the right business decisions. Of course, giving employees tools they enjoy using will also make them happier at work, which is a massive benefit when it comes to retaining valued staff.
The software and systems we use to conduct our work need to be more in tune with the user now than they ever have before. Employees are far more adapted to technology outside of the workplace than they used to be and it's important the tools they have in the workplace to help them do their work successfully are ones that can support the way of thinking and interacting with technology they have become accustomed to. Otherwise, organisations run the risk of missing out on the discoveries that can be made through letting their employees interact with data and learn in an environment they are comfortable with, with the tools they enjoy using, and at their own pace.